The Reporters Who Cover Television timidly asked CBS programming chief Nina Tassler about Ashton Kutcher on “Two and a Half Men” at Summer TV Press Tour 2011.
Kutcher will play heartbroken internet geek/billionaire Walden Schmidt when the show debuts its first Sheen-less season, and the show’s re-boot will be a two-episode arc, Tassler volunteered.
This, much to the surprise of TRWCT who had not dared to kick off the Q&A session with Kutcher questions. Maybe they were embarrassed, having so steadfastly dismissed CBS in general, and “Men” in particular, all these years, on the grounds both were too old-school, only to find that CBS is suddenly the prettiest dress in the shop heading into the fall.
So, instead of jumping right into it, the press tried to break the ice, like on a blind date, with easier questions, like:
*Do viewers care whether CBS is No. 1 in ratings?
*How will “The Good Wife” handle football overruns now that it’s moved to Sunday?
*What’s up with “Rules of Engagement” on Saturday nights?
…before finally screwing up the nerve to ask what they all were itching to tweet:
Who will Kutcher be playing? What will be his name? How will Sheen’s departure be explained?
Finally, one brave reporter asked Tassler, “What did you learn from The Charlie Sheen Situation.”
In case you’ve been living under a flat rock, Warner Bros. TV, which produces “Men” for CBS, shut down production of the show last spring and sent Sheen to rehab, then cited his continued erratic behavior and sacked him. And you could see its point, given the things Sheen had said about the studio, and network suits, and show creator Chuck Lorre during his Ranting on the Radio period in the days and weeks leading up Warner Bros.’ decision to give Sheen and his jingle-writing, Malibu beachfront-property-owning butterfly Charlie Harper the hook.
“Oh, where do I begin?” Tassler joked to kill time, as she prepared to leap and skip around the question like some kind of broadcast TV Nijinsky.
“What we learned is that we have an extraordinary cast…We have extraordinary writers. We have extraordinary actors. And that there is great value in hiring an actor like Ashton Kutcher…an extraordinarly professional, talented, funny, gifted actor who comes with a tremendous amount of commitment and enthusiasm, embraced by an extraordinarily talented cast,” Tassler said.
“And what you learn is the show is brilliantly written…,” she added. Did she not realize this before?
“…and extraordinarily produced and that you have an opportunity moving forward to create this exciting new character and deliver a great show. So, that’s just a few of the things I’ve learned,” Tassler said like someone who has been, well, extraordinarily well prepped for a deposition.
The reporters, of course, had hoped for an answer more along lines of, “I have learned never ever again to hire someone to be the star of one our series who is known to have a substance abuse problem.” So they tried again, with, “Would you have done anything different with what you learned, going back?”
See, this is what’s wrong with a Press Tour Q&A session. It only works if BOTH sides know it’s a deposition. Tassler had clearly been prepped for one, but the critics were still pussyfooting around the topic of interest with their super-politely worded questions when they needed to be hitting her over the head with questions shaped like heavy blunt objects.
Tassler, assuming her well-prepped for a deposition look, answered, “Who could have predicted we’d be here six months ago?”
Answer: about 80 percent of the reporters in the room.
“But the great news is that the show will be as irreverent as it has always been,” Tassler continued. “Our Program Practices people are already on high alert!”
Yet another reporter took a crack at the seemingly impenetrable Charlie Sheen question:
“You said, you know, ‘Who could predict that we would be here in six months?’ but, I think a lot of critics looked at his lifestyle off camera and predicted that, yeah, that might happen in six months, that he might get that unstable,” the reporter said, like he meant it to sting.
“Is there anything that you wish could have been handled differently? Is there anything CBS could have done before it got to the point where he melted down so publicly?”
The grilling was beginning to get to Tassler. She begn to recite Kutcher’s “extraordinary” attributes again, like “extraordinary” was a very big new advertiser on CBS and this was some Press Tour Product Placement deal.
She declined to confirm the rumor that show creator Chuck Lorre, who was on the receiving end of some of Sheen’s more colorful comment during his Ranting on the Radio phase, and who Sheen has sued over his termination, has killed off Sheen’s character and there will be a funeral in at the start of the season.
“I will not confirm or deny that,” Tassler said which, not being a flat-out-denial will be taken as confirmation by most of the bloggers and tweeters in the room.
“Part of the whole marketing plan is ‘All will be revealed’ on X date -- the mystery is part of the marketing,” Tassler said.
“ It’s going to be a big event and the chatter and conversation is part of what the fun can be.”
Emboldened, one critic noted petulantly that while Ted Danson, who is joining the cast of “CSI” with the welcome exit of Laurence Fishburne, was coming to the press tour that day, Kutcher was not.
“They are in production,” Tassler said, but even she acted like she knew that was pure horseradish.
“Don’t’ forget, you’ve got your blocking. And you’ve got your run-through. You’ve got rewrites… A tremendous amount of weight and effort have been put into this episode,” she said, but without any real chirpiness.
One reporter actually asked her if she would commit to not casting actors know for “erratic” behavior in the future.
“That would probably be very actor in the business, so – kinda hard,” Tassler shot back.